It seems like everyone is either sick or freaked out about catching something. Whether you’re fighting off the ‘Rona or fending off flu season, it can be tough to feel confident about your well-being.
You might be wondering, “Is it okay to be around others? Am I eating healthy enough? What should I be doing to avoid getting sick?”
To help you put your best foot forward, we’re sharing ten proven practices to boost your immune system. Let’s dive in.
- Fasting helps reset and renew your immune system
- Proper circulation gives your body the oxygen it needs to defend against disease
- One poor night of sleep can decrease your disease-fighting cells by 70%
- Vagal breathing can calm your fight or flight response
Foods That Fuel Your Body’s Defense Systems
Your body has five main defense systems:
- Angiogenesis – The production of new blood vessels. Essential for growth, development, and wound healing.
- Regeneration — The replacement of old or damaged cells with new ones. Plays a role in muscle building, bone healing, and tissue repair.
- Microbiome – A collection of microorganisms like bacteria that regulate help regulate your bodily functions. Think of it as a manufacturing plant that produces specific cells when they’re necessary. A microbiome that’s out of balance could result in autoimmune diseases.
- DNA – A self-replicating molecule that contains all your genetic information. It’s kind of like an instruction manual for your cells to reproduce, develop, and survive. Damage to your DNA can result in cellular aging and a greater risk of diseases like cancer.
- Immunity – A network of cells, tissues, and organs that help your body fight infections and diseases.
So, you’ve got some heavy hitters on your side when it comes to fending off illnesses; now it’s a matter of giving them the right fuel to do their jobs. Here’s some more good news: There are over 200 foods that help strengthen your five main defense systems. Let’s look at a few that support each category:
To keep your immune system healthy, consider including these in your diet.
Fasting: Renewing Your Immunity
It’s not just about what you eat, but when. In addition to nutrient-rich foods that support your defense systems, fasting from food altogether can make a dramatic difference in your health. If you’re unfamiliar with fasting, the thought of missing multiple meals might sound like torture. How do you survive without food?!
While fasting is trendier these days the practice goes back centuries and has plenty of science-backed benefits. A study done by the University of Southern California found that fasting for two to four days in a row can renew your entire immune system. Dr. William Li breaks it down like this in his best-selling book “Eat To Beat Disease”:
“[it] forces the human body to go into a recycling mode, which gets rid of the older, worn-out immune cells. Then, when food is started again, it jump-starts the hematopoietic stem cells in your bone marrow to start regenerating fresh immune cells thus rebuilding the immune system.”
In layman’s terms, when your body isn’t busy digesting, it can focus on regeneration, it’s kind of like giving your car an oil change. Check out this guide to learn more about how to fast effectively.
Circulation: The Key To Health
To have a healthy immune system, you need healthy blood vessels. Your blood vessels are tasked with transporting oxygen to your brain, heart, and other vital organs. Without them, you wouldn’t be able to function.
But for most people, the problem isn’t being without oxygen but getting enough. If you sit for extended periods of time, your circulation suffers. This stagnant circulation makes it harder for your defense systems to get proper oxygen. Think of it as pinching a hose; the water still flows but you might get a trickle instead of a stream.
Not getting proper oxygen to your immune system doesn’t just affect your health, it messes with your energy levels too. So, how do you turn it around? Apart from exercising, you can promote healthy circulation with nutrition.
1. Healthy Fats
Omega 3’s found in salmon, avocados, and nuts help keep your blood flowing smoothly through your system.
The peel of fruits are packed with antioxidants like ursolic acid. This molecule helps your body develop more blood cells which makes getting oxygen to your organs more efficient.
More oxygen = healthier organs = stronger immune system.
3. Green Tea
A naturally occurring compound in green helps your body regulate your blood vessels so you have just the right amount. In fact, researchers have found that “people who drink green tea have better blood vessel function just 30 minutes later.” Incredible.
Sleep: Strengthening Your System
A lack of quality sleep can result in a host of short and long-term ailments. According to sleep neuroscientist, Matthew Walker, “every disease that is killing us in developed nations has causal and significant links to a lack of sleep.”
It’s while you’re getting some shuteye that your body heals itself and produces T-cells. Your T-cells are white blood cells that fight off diseases like Covid, the flu, cancer, etc.
But here’s the catch, according to Walker: Just one night of poor sleep (getting only 4-5 hours), can result in a 70% drop in T-cells. Just one night of poor sleep?! Yup, but don’t freak out, there are plenty of things you can do to get quality shuteye.
- Keep your room at a cool 60-67 degrees. Experts say this temperature is ideal for falling sleep.
- Cut coffee intake after 4 pm. Caffeine is kryptonite for sleep.
- Wind down slowly. Most people think falling asleep is like an on/off switch but in reality, it’s more like a dimmer. As you get ready for bed, shut off your electronics, reduce blue and fluorescent lights, and ease into sleep.
- Here are a few more tips for optimizing your sleep cycle.
Stress: The Silent Killer
Even if you’re eating right, stress can take a severe toll on your immune system. Whenever a threat pops up or at least the perception of one, your body’s built-in alarm system kicks in and releases cortisol. Too much of this stuff can “ravage your immune system” and “reduce all aspects of immunity” according to the American Psychological Association. Great.
Out-of-balance cortisol can do some damage but ultimately, it’s there to serve you. This hormone helps your body respond to danger, metabolize sugar faster, and reduce inflammation.
The problem is cortisol also stiff-arms your immune system. So, when you’re overly stressed your body’s ability to fight disease drops significantly. Cortisol is more of a life raft than a pool floatie. It’s great for emergencies but you don’t want to spend all your time on it.
Here’s some more bad news (aren’t you glad you read this blog), Americans are “among the most stressed-out populations in the world.” You likely experience stress on a daily basis. In fact, a recent Gallup poll claims that over 55% of Americans are stressed during the day. That’s 20% higher than the average.
And it makes sense. You’ve got virus variants, climate change, inflation, and economic uncertainty to worry about. On top of that, got deadlines to meet, bills to keep up with, relationships to balance, and goals to pursue. Trying to balance all of it while staying sane isn’t easy.
So, now that the bad and ugly are out of the way, let’s get to the good. Science has discovered some powerful tools to reduce your stress and bring your body back to balance.
1. Alcohol, Drugs, Caffeine
These substances tend to exacerbate the effects of stress on your nervous system. While you might enjoy a pint after work to decompress, consider replacing it with a cup of green tea. Even though green tea still contains caffeine, it has less than half that of coffee. Plus, it consists of theanine, an amino acid that has a powerful calming effect on your body.
Exercise is an endorphin machine. Going on a run, even just for a few minutes, releases feel-good hormones while simultaneously lowering cortisol levels. Getting yourself going is the hard part but once you do, you’ll feel the difference. If running’s not your thing, you can reap the same benefits from walking, swimming, biking, or dancing.
3. Vagal Breathing
In case you’ve never heard of it, your vagal nerve connects your brain to your organs, and it’s key to regulating your stress. When most people feel anxious, they tend to hold their breath. This action signals your vagal nerve which snaps your body into fight or flight. The problem is our ancient brains are overstimulated by our modern world, so your stress response gets triggered a lot. The good news is, you can just as easily switch it off, all it takes is a little breath work. When you take slow, deep breaths it tells your brain there’s no threat and it helps your nervous system relax.
4. Expressive Journaling
Research found that expressive journaling reduced depression, anxiety, and stress. If you’re feeling overwhelmed or burnt out, write it down. You can always crumple up your entry and throw it away, but the benefit comes from getting your emotions out of your head and onto the page.
5. Lavender Oil
Even though some of the benefits of essential oils are exaggerated (no, they don’t fix broken bones), others are backed by research. In fact, taking lavender capsules has been found to be comparable to the effects of anti-anxiety medication. And, taking 160 ml of lavender has been proven to significantly reduce anxiety.
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